Friday, November 20, 2015

Secret in Their Eyes

A remake of a 2009 Argentinian film that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Secret in Their Eyes is a competent suspense thriller with a dynamite cast. I've seen some people question the reason for this film's existence, and if I'd seen the original film, I might be doing the same thing. But since I haven't seen the first movie and therefore can't compare the two, I'm left to ponder the effectiveness of this film alone, and I found it to be a slick, well-acted murder mystery that makes good use of its stellar talent.

Secret in Their Eyes
Writer/Director: Billy Ray
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman

Writer/director Billy Ray (who also wrote The Hunger Games, the last entry of which ironically faces off against this film at the box office this weekend) intertwines two timelines to tell this story. In 2002, FBI agents Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Claire (Julia Roberts) are working in a counter-terrorism unit in Los Angeles, trying to prevent another 9/11. They discover a body in a dumpster near a high-profile mosque, but they're shocked to discover it's Claire's teenage daughter. In 2015, Ray returns to L.A. after thirteen years working security for the New York Mets, spending every night looking through a database of criminals trying to ID Claire's daughter's killer. He thinks he's found the guy, and so he attempts to convince the new District Attorney — his ambitious former love interest from '02, Claire (Nicole Kidman) — to reopen the case. The film criss-crosses back and forth between these timelines, filling in the gaps of how the killer escaped as 2015 Ray finally tries to solve the case once and for all.

This is the best showcase for Roberts in a long time. It seems rare that movies depict more than a few seconds of a mother discovering her child's body, but the camera lingers on Roberts here as she completely breaks down, overflowing with anguish, anger, and heartbreak in a performance that gave me chills. (It was tough to watch, and I don't even have kids; I can't imagine what it'd be like for parents to view this scene.) Ejiofor and Kidman don't have the kind of electric chemistry needed to justify them pining for each other for thirteen years, and Kidman doesn't have much to do outside of the love story. We see the story through Ejiofor's eyes, and I'm convinced the only reason he's the main character is so that we can experience the same jaw-dropping revelation he does as the film builds to its twisty, exciting conclusion (otherwise, this should totally be Roberts' story). The acting is great all around, with sturdy supporting turns by Breaking Bad's Dean Norris as Ejiofor's FBI accomplice and House of Cards' Michael Kelly as a smug enforcer for the 2002 District Attorney (Alfred Molina) whose concerns about terrorism overshadow his desire to prosecute the killer.

We know the bad guy gets away since we've seen what happens in 2015, so it's to Billy Ray's credit that there's still a palpable tension in the scenes that take place in 2002. This is a propulsive movie that rarely slows down — it's always pulling back the curtain and revealing more about everyone's motivations. A haunting procedural that utilizes some all-star artists, Secret in Their Eyes brings us face to face with the chilling consequences of obsession.

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Though it will rightfully garner some attention for Will Smith's impressive lead performance, Concussion is a largely flat procedural about the discovery of CTE, the disease caused by the sort of repeated head trauma regularly experienced by NFL players. It's clear writer/director Peter Landesman is passionate about the subject, but this poorly paced and meandering drama seems as if he set out to make a conspiracy thriller and forgot all about the "thriller" aspect. Not as revelatory as Michael Mann's The Insider, which pitted a different small-time David against a multi-billion dollar Goliath, Concussion covers a necessary and vital topic but never quite coalesces into the kind of Important Movie to which it aspires.

Writer/Director: Peter Landesman
Starring: Will Smith, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Albert Brooks

The Night Before

A very funny and often surprisingly sincere send-up of Christmas movies, The Night Before is a broad studio comedy that's about more than just jumping from big laugh to big laugh. That's becoming more scarce every year as studios seem content to check off formulaic boxes, making these kinds of movies feel like they're just collections of sometimes-humorous scenes and not a cohesive part of a larger whole; maybe one of the best things that could be said about The Night Before is that it actually feels like a complete story worth telling.

The Night Before
Director: Jonathan Levine
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Big Short (AFI FEST 2015)

Writer/director Adam McKay is outraged that banks got away with tanking the world economy, and by the end of The Big Short, you will be, too.

The Big Short
Writer/Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt